Category Archives: Scottish Whisky

Did You Know #1: More Than a Shelf Can Show

I thought it might be a good idea to post little nuggets of whiskey related advice, knowledge, or wisdom from time to time to help out our readers.   Some people may say that these are all “common sense” but in life, like whiskey I find that “common” sense is a little less common than we think.  A number of you may already know most or all the bits of information that we’ll share under the “Did You Know” banner but if we can enlighten just one reader then in my opinion the post was helpful.  So here goes…

Did You Know…that your local liquor stores have access to a lot more selection than you see on the shelves? 

Have you ever gone into your local purveyor of the water of life just to sigh as you see the same old bottlings again and again?  You may find yourself wondering why your local shop only carries the same 5 bourbons, 2 ryes, 2 Irish, and 4 scotches?  The answer?  Supply and demand.  I’m not going to give you an economics lesson but suffice it to say that if your local shop sells their selection just fine then why change?  However, if they see a growing demand for something else that they can get their hands on then they may start stocking that too.  Try talking to the local store manager/owner and see if they are willing to order specific whiskeys for you.  You may be surprised when they pull out the book they get from their local distributor and then ask you which of 50+ additional scotches on that list you are interested in. 

There are limits of course.  Some producers don’t sell in certain areas.  There are plenty of scotch bottlings that don’t make it stateside.  Japanese whisky is all but completely absent here.  Even a great brand like Buffalo Trace doesn’t send any of their standard bottling two states south to Georgia.  So don’t go in expecting to get  the most hard to find and esoteric whiskey imaginable.   On the other hand, see what they can get.  You may just be surprised.  If enough people start doing it then you may just see that standard selection increasing a bottling at a time.

One additional note about price – generally speaking the liquor store will probably charge you a little more for your special order bottle than if you bought it off the shelf.  Why?  Well, it’s either because they can (you obviously couldn’t get it elsewhere or you wouldn’t be coming in and special ordering it) or because what they pay for a single bottle is a good bit more than the per bottle price if they order a case/box of a regularly stocked item.   Either way, as long as they don’t completely screw you on the price then fair is fair.  They are getting a decent profit and you are getting the whiskey you’ve been looking for.  What’s not to like?

– Richard

Gateway Series #10: The Three Glens

For this week’s entry in the Gateway Series we decided to do something a little different.  Last week Matt was down in Atlanta and we got to sit down together and do some tasting.  We decided that a head-to-head-to-head tasting of the Three Glens would be a nice twist on our usual reviews.  There was some discussion if single malt scotches should even be included as a “gateway” drink given their tendency toward higher prices and a more refined palate.  That said, if you are venturing into single malts for the first time you’re likely to cross paths with one of these three.  Here are the results of our tasting of The Glenlivet 12 Year Old, Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, and Glenmorangie The Original.  Enjoy!

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old
40% ABV, 80 Proof
About $25 to $30
Darn near everywhere

What the Distillery Says:

Glenlivet 12 Year Old shows a perfectly balanced display of fruity and floral flavours.  Oak is present but in the distance.  This Classic Speyside conveys beautiful images of a fertile orchard, blossoming at springtime and laden with juicy ripe fruit at summertime.  Nose and palate offer a warm experience of Speyside fresh and fragrant air.  The single malt to choose for a relaxing moment, enjoyed on its own or with a fruit pudding (plum or apricot pie, Belgian waffle with stewed apples, marzipan biscuits).

What Richard Says:

Nose:  Light grass with sweet fruit notes pushing through. No note of earthiness (peat, smoke, etc.) which is a little surprising.  Water tends to fade the nose without continued agitation.
Palate: Apples, grass (like sitting in a meadow), and sweet cream (pre-whipped sweetened heavy cream).  Water mutes the more delicate notes.
Finish:  Short and fleeting.  Not much but it leaves you with notes of apple skin.
Comments: Full sweetness through the palate as opposed to a typical fore tongue sweetness.  Overall it was better than expected.  I’ve had this a thousand times and I’ll have it a thousand more.  It’s a great entry scotch but not necessarily typical of like scotches.  Good for fans of a fruiter white wine.

What Matt Says:

Nose:  Crisp green apples, caramel, candy apple coating.  This is a very fruity and accessible nose for the neophyte but not very “Scotch-y.”  No smoke and no earth.
Palate:  The green apple is still present, but the sweeter notes move from caramel to sweet cream.  There is something I can’t quite grasp that Richard calls grassy.  I suppose I could call it saw grass, but it is very vague and faint.
Finish:  Short and tart.  The skin of a Granny Smith apple.
Comments:  This is a pleasant dram with lots of crisp fruit.  It is a great introduction for folks with a fondness for fruity drinks.  Don’t bother adding water or using this as a mixer.  Mixing kills the flavor.  Among single malts, this is decidedly average (that’s why it is so popular).  However, this stands out among gateway whiskies.

 
Glenfiddich 12 Year Old Special Reserve
40% ABV, 80 Proof
About $25 to $30
The bestselling single malt in the world

What the Distillery Says:

The pioneer of the prestigious single malt Scotch whisky category, Glenfiddich 12 Year Old is today enjoyed by more people around the world than any other single malt whisky.

Our original, signature single malt Scotch whisky has matured for at least 12 years in American and European oak casks. The quality of these casks is exceptional as all are individually tended by our experienced team of coopers, ensuring our whisky develops complex, elegantly rounded flavours with notes of fresh pear and subtle oak.

NOSE
Distinctively fresh and fruity with a hint of pear. Beautifully crafted single malt with a delicately balanced fragrance.

TASTE
Characteristic sweet, fruity notes. Develops into elements of butterscotch, cream, malt and subtle oak flavour.

FINISH
Long, smooth and mellow.

What Richard Says:

Nose:  Honey/honeysuckle with butter but it’s more like a brown butter sauce or clarified butter.  Not to sound too snotty but it has a really nice bouquet.  More of a green/under ripened note develops with water.
Palate: Initially not very much on the palate.  Upon further investigation this is a more peppered honey on the palate compared to the nose.  It has a creamier mouth feel.
Finish:  Leave the mouth feeling…chewy.  A slight vegetal note as the sweetness clears the throat.  More pepper is left behind.
Comments: There’s a reason this is sold more widely than any other single malt.  It’s a very pleasant dram.  A solid go-to malt.

What Matt Says:

Nose:  Honey butter and those little toast bites you can buy at Ikea (like heavily toasted mini baguettes).
Palate:  Buttery, toasty, viscous, clove, slightly burnt toast bites.  The palate gives an interesting sensation.  The whisky forms a meniscus then bursts on the center of the tongue.  Water opens the nose to some green apple, but kills the palate.
Finish:  Short finish with a slight burn.  Glenfiddich makes my mouth water and my cheeks feel full (almost swollen).
Comments:  Of the Glens, Glenfiddich is the one that I would suggest to anyone interested in getting into Single Malts.  It is not overly complex or overly simple and has a very accessible flavor profile.  Like the Glenlivet, this stands out only compared to other gateway drams.  This is my favorite gateway dram despite the fact that I prefer Glenmorangie (see notes below).

 
Glenmorangie Original
43% ABV, 86 Proof
About $40
Worldwide

What the Distillery Says:

Glenmorangie Original is an inviting single malt whisky, acclaimed and appreciated by luxury spirit drinkers around the world.
The original expression of Glenmorangie’s elegant, floral spirit that is renowned the world over for exquisite finesse and alluring complexity, The Original is the intriguing marriage of delicate spirit and long, slow maturation.

The taste characteristics from the first-fill bourbon casks that permeates the majority of the ages spirit, coupled with the increased proportion of our ‘designer casks’ (made from slow-growth, air-dried American oak from the Ozark Mountains of Missouri), results in a delicious spirit that enhances the relaxed and convivial mood of the group by igniting the senses.

The Original is, quite simply, the most delicate and deliciously complex single malt whisky in the world.

What Richard Says:

Nose:  Yeast rolls and tart apples.  For only 3% more alcohol than the other two Glens it makes a big difference on the nose.  Much more alcohol.  Water cuts down the alcohol but all else remains the same.
Palate: Viscous mouth feel with a bit of sweetness but more tart.  Almost like Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda.  Water mutes the flavor.
Finish:  There’s like a viscous hold on the finish and then it releases from the mouth like a dam break.
Comments: Glenmorangie seems to move away from a gateway malt to be more of a defined palate that needs to be sought out as opposed to embracing your.  Their reformulation over the old 10 Year is quite noticeable.  Would I call it “the most delicate and deliciously complex single malt whisky in the world”? No.  But it is quite good.

What Matt Says:

Nose:  Yeast rolls, tart apples and a lot of alcohol. 
Palate:  Birch beer, herbal, faint notes of licorice.  Water draws out some caramel sweetness but creates an odd sensation of a crystalline caramel shell with nothing inside.
Finish:  Short and slightly numbing
Comments:  I find it odd that Glenmorangie is so often mentioned in the same breath as Glenfiddich and Glenlivet.  Both ‘fiddich and ‘livet are Speyside malts while Glenmorangie comes from the Highland region.  Furthermore, the taste profiles are very different.  Glenmorangie is herbal and slightly medicinal compared to the fruitiness of the other two.  The extra alcohol content is small, but prominent.  This dram is for a decidedly different palate.  While this suits my palate best of the three, I cannot recommend it over the Glenfiddich as a gateway dram.

 
Rating:  This was a very interesting experience.  It brought up a lot of questions about the nature of ratings and whether they should be a definitive scale or a relative scale.  Definitively we rated all three as average because while good, they are far overshadowed by world of single malts.  On a relative scale all three standout from everything we’ve tried in the gateway series.  So if you want an overall rating they would each be Average/Stands Out.  Personally, Matt and I both picked Glenfiddich from the group.  No matter which one you pick up I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Highland Park 30 Year Old

Highland Park 30 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
48.1% ABV, 96.2 Proof
About $350 to $475
Limited Worldwide Availability

What the Distillery Says:

The flagship variant of the Highland Park range was first released in April 2005. By its very nature, this whisky is only available in limited quantities. It is, however, worth seeking out as the ultimate expression of the distillery’s character.

Tasting notes
Colour: Rich, Coppery amber
Bouquet: Spicy, aromatic, nutmeg and darkest chocolate
Palate: Force 9 Flavour, toffee, dark chocolate orange and Hobbister Hill peat
Finish: Rich, long, smokey and surprisingly sweet

Highland Park 30 Year Old merits time and attention. It has spent 30 years maturing so treat it with respect; you’ll discover the characteristic fudge sweetness together with complex aromatic spices and dark chocolate orange. It has a drying finish, leaving a gentle smokey flavour and a mildly salty aftertaste – the result of 30 years aging in the Orkney sea spray.

What Richard Says:

Nose: Luxurious. Layers of complexity not easily stripped apart. Candied fruit, chocolate, and a cherry sweetness.
Palate: The sweetness from the sherry blasts you in the face but in a very good way. It warms the mouth with light peat and hints of the sea. Seaweed. Gorgeous mouth feel with a kick from the added proof. A monster of flavor that dances on air. The Muhammad Ali of Malt!
Finish: The burn from the alcohol is like a flash fire…there and gone. No linger to the alcohol at all. As it clears the mouth it leaves a little more peat but overall it finishes leaving you with the same characteristics of the palate.
Comments: This is a magnificent experience. You want everyone to try it but don’t want to share.
Rating: Must Buy

What Matt Says:

Nose: Luxury, chocolate covered cherries, peat, hippy cigars (Acid brand Liquid cigars to be precise)
Palate: Robust and delicate at the same time, balanced, sweet, dark chocolate, ripe berries, sherry, peat and brine.
Finish: Like a muted version of the palate with a hint more peat. The burn is a flash that disappears almost before you feel it.
Comment: I have no words to express my love for this whiskey. This is why we drink whisky. If you can afford to spend $350 on a bottle of whisky, buy this one.
Rating: Must Buy

I feel the need to add a little more commentary on this bottle. First, Matt and I both agreed that the layers of flavor were too amazing for us to adequately describe. What you see above is our meager attempt at describing a wonderful drinking experience. Also, it’s hard to rate something that costs several hundred dollars a bottle as a Must Buy. We realize that it’s a lot of money for the average person, especially in these trying economic times. That said, if you have the means definitely pick up a bottle. You will not be sorry.

Overall Rating: Must Buy

Good Times, Great Friends, and Greater Whiskey

This past weekend I had the distinct honor of having Mr. & Mrs. Matt down in Atlanta for a visit.  I don’t really get to see them that often and the distance between NYC and Atlanta seems much farther upon their departure than the two hour flight it entails.  We had BBQ, good conversations and a considerable amount of great whiskey. 

So what does all this mean for our readers?  Well of course we were working during this visit too.   I’ll get the reviews of that lovely 30 Year Old Highland Park I got for my birthday posted soon.  We also did a great single malt comparison for the Gateway series that is soon to come. 

Why am I just telling you about it all instead of posting it?  I don’t know.  Lazy I guess.  To make up for the delay let me give you something that is just too good not to pass along.  Sometime between BBQ and bourbon we came across a great milkshake recipe that we all agreed must be posted for the greater good.  This recipe is for Bourbon Ball Milkshakes.  The recipe was created by Lynn’s Paradise Cafe in Louisville, KY.  It was recently printed in Martha Stewart Living.

Bourbon Ball Milkshakes (makes 4)

12 large scoops (about a 1/2 gallon) vanilla ice cream

4 ounces (1/2 cup) bourbon, preferably Woodford Reserve

2 tablespoons heavy cream, plus 1/4 cup, whipped, for serving

1 cup walnut halves, plus more chopped for serving

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Puree ice cream, bourbon, heavy cream, walnuts, and chocolate chips in a blender. Divide among four 16-ounce glasses.

Top with whipped cream. Garnish with walnuts and chocolate chips.

I didn’t have any Woodford Reserve on hand (gasp!) or walnuts so we made it with Basil Hayden’s but its was still fantastic.  Go ahead and whip up a batch, you won’t be sorry.  And I promise to get those reviews posted soon.

– Richard

Greatest Wife In The World

My lovely wife Elizabeth is the greatest wife in the world.  Why?  Well, today is my birthday.  I turned 30 today.  To mark this special occasion she gave me a very special present.  I just received a bottle of 30 Year old Highland Park Single Malt Scotch.  Yep, that’s right.  Eat your heart out.

How does it taste?  Matt’s coming back to Atlanta next week and we’ll sit down for a dram when he’s here (Matt’s also 30 for another three months or so) and work out our thoughts with a formal review to follow.  John Hansell gave it a 94/100 so you should expect to hear good things. 

Let’s from any of you out there about the great whiskeys you’ve  received.

– Richard